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The Least Disruptive Option

In this interview with featured Soul Seater, Lucia Bourgeois you get a sense of how much courage it can take to claim your own self-care in the workplace. Lucia joined Hannah and me at our space in Orr Street Studios.

Pack Matthews: Hi Lucia, thanks for taking some time out of your busy schedule to chat with us. Could you begin by giving a brief description of the context in which you work?

Lucia Bourgeois: Sure. I work for the city of Columbia, Missouri Utilities department. I spend my days running spreadsheets and working with industrial and commercial energy efficiency programming, replacing lights with LED’s, things like that.

Pack: The first product of ours that you tried was the Elizabeth Flow Desk wasn’t it?

Lucia: I had originally wanted to get a floor desk and Hannah graciously let me borrow hers and brought it to my office. I was using that for about a week or so and it made people really uncomfortable. They really didn’t like the idea of me being on the floor. It was considered kind of unprofessional, and they didn’t like people walking through and seeing that I was not in a chair.

L: I have a cubicle, but we do have customers that come through to have meetings with different people in the office, so it’s not uncommon that there are people visiting that are not working there. I used the Elizabeth Flow Desk and I just stuck it on the floor because our desks take some maneuvering if you don’t want them there. I suppose working for city government is a little stuffy and not quite as accommodating to alternative seating choices.

P: Are there any standing desks in the office?

L: We do have standing desks. That’s something that they got a few years ago. They’re okay with standing, they’re just not okay with sitting on the floor.

P: Was the Flow Desk working for you? Did you like working on the floor?

L: I loved it! I like using the Flow Desk because I’m not really comfortable sitting in normal chairs. I had been perching in my office chair like it was a stool or something anyway, which I’m not sure how that’s perceived as any more professional than sitting on the floor. Anyway, my colleagues didn’t like it, and it made me uncomfortable that they were so uncomfortable. I found I didn’t mind answering questions a few times, but it wasn’t really like, “oh, so tell me more about that!” It was more like, “Why are you on the floor? Do you need a chair? Can I help you find a chair?”

L: Ultimately, there was this mad search to find me a better chair that I would sit in, and people kept bringing me different chairs from around the office asking, “what about this one?”. I said I really just want to be here on the floor.” And that just wasn’t an approved answer I guess.

P: Did they interpret your using the Flow Desk as a protest? Or was there another concern?

L: Maybe, or I was just doing something that not everyone else was doing, and it just wasn’t okay. City government is pretty stuffy, it’s pretty regulated, and I guess that goes all the way down to the floor level. See what I did there? Haha.

L: I’m probably in the younger end of the age spectrum where I work as well. It would definitely make it harder to normalize sitting on the floor because the people in my office haven’t been sitting on the floor their entire lives and they’re older than I am.

P: Are they projecting the pain they would feel onto you?

L: I think that’s where a lot of the concern came from because they would say, “but you have to get up!” And I was like, “I can get up!” Or they would say, “here, I’ll come to you so you don’t have to get up” I’d demonstrate, “but I can really get up! I’m on the floor, see, now I’m off the floor!” But I don’t think that’s how many people felt about it.

P: By trying to do the right thing for your body, it was disruptive to your workplace. So Hannah provided you with a less disruptive option.

L: She did! That was the Soul Seat. And the Soul Seat brought the floor up to my desk, so I could still use my computer and my normal desk space while still not having to sit in an “ergonomic” seating arrangement that was not working for me. And in an office job, it’s hard to be seated for 8 hours a day without moving around. I move around anyway because I can’t sit still for long periods of time. Having the Soul Seat has been especially helpful because I can continue to do things and it just lets me wiggle. My wiggle chair is what one of my colleagues calls it.

P: Did your co-workers respond better to the Soul Seat than the Flow Desk?

L: They’ll say, “that’s a weird chair!” But it’s a chair, so I suppose they’re comfortable with it having the word chair in it. Chairs are for sitting, right? There are a few people in the office that are a little more into fitness and wellness and they wanted to try it and see how it worked. Then there’s a handful of people who just look at it and seem to say, well that’s weird and I’m not going to sit there.” Occasionally people will drop by to do something on my computer, they’ll push the Soul Seat aside and just stand rather than sit on it. I think it’s just fear of failure or something. It looks like it’s complicated. But it doesn’t bother anyone being there in my cubicle, and it’s a lot better for me.

P: How has it been better for you? What have you noticed?

L: I can sit for longer periods of time, that’s probably the big one. Not saying that you should sit for long periods of time, but if you’re going to do it, finding a way to do it that’s not causing lower back pain or causing you to sit on your feet. I have a lot less pain sitting, that’s a big one. I have a lot more mobility. I can stretch my legs and move around while staying seated. So those are the aspects that I really appreciate about it.

P: Where were you experiencing pain from the conventional chairs? What is the Soul Seat alleviating for you now?

L: Lower back pain. I also have pretty poor circulation in my legs so I was getting a lot of numbness in my legs if I didn’t stand using the “ergonomic” chair, my butt would fall asleep and it would just become uncomfortable very quickly. With my Soul Seat I don’t have that numbness anymore. I think part of it is the greater mobility and being able to stretch. I also no longer have that pinching sensation at your hips from knees being 90 degrees out from your pelvis, so I just don’t have that numbness or discomfort in my legs that makes me feel like I need to not be sitting. Those are the big ones.

P: So when you’re at home, do you often sit on the floor?

L: I do a lot on the floor, I’m pretty mobile. During the week I don’t get home until about 8 pm, so by the time I’ve had dinner and done some chores, I go to bed fairly early. So I don’t actually spend a lot of time at home, but if I did I would probably spend more time on the floor. Either that or standing. My dog makes it very hard to be on the floor sometimes.

P: If suddenly you didn’t have the Soul Seat at work, what effect would that have on you?

L: Sadness, depression, five stages of grief.

P: So it really makes work work for you?

L: A huge part of it I think is energy, just having stamina. It’s easier for me to stay awake and stay alert when I’m a little more engaged and when I have a little more mobility than when I’m kind of stuck in a chair in a weird sitting position or in a sitting position I’m “supposed” to be in but one that doesn’t allow my body to utilize all its mobility. In my work I get tired really easily, especially staring at screens, so I think my productivity is definitely improved with having a Soul Seat.

P: I’ve had the privilege of watching yours and Hannah’s friendship since elementary school. I’ve always admired how you’ve always charted your own path. Do you think that helps make the weirdness of the Soul Seat not a stumbling block for you? Even in grade school, you weren’t afraid of controversy. Do you think that makes a difference for you having been able to bring a solution like the Soul Seat into city government?

L: That’s hard for me to answer for myself, but speaking outwards toward other people in the ways they’ve perceived it or the responses that I’ve had, doing something new and different can be a real obstacle. I don’t know, I mean, I saw it and said, “Sweet! Cool chair. I want that.” And then I got it. But I think for a lot of people there is some fear or some apprehension of what other people might think or there could be some feelings that don’t have anything to do with whether or not it’s functional and more to do with whether or not it’s perceived as being an okay thing or an acceptable arrangement. I think that’s changing though, too. I don’t think that that’s as big of an issue as it has been before, especially as millennials take over the workforce. If we can get in the workforce!

P: So the people who tend to be the most nervous are older colleagues?

L: It tends to be older colleagues that don’t really have much of a background of fitness and health or wellbeing as part of their daily routine. It’s not something that they’re conscious of beyond needing to lose weight or sleep more. General health things. But I’m not sure they’re proactively looking for solutions that could be preventative. More of the sustaining generation I guess. Which, no offense, I think a lot of you are. I think that my generation is a lot more proactive and a little more forward thinking about trying to stay healthy and prevent damage and harm to our bodies than the generation before ours, which is sort of the medicating generation. But that’s also because we can’t afford health care!

P: Does anyone else ever sit on the Soul Seat at your work?

L: I have one colleague who plays with it sometimes when I’m not there. But it’s the same colleague that rides his bike to work every day and has a standing desk. It’s cultural.

Hannah: I think another thing with people who are older is that there’s this idea that once you get older things just stop working. They saw it in their parents and grandparents and older generations, where you just get rickety and you can’t do these things and that’s just assumed to be a part of aging. But it really doesn’t have to be a part of aging.

L: Or this, “I could never sit on the floor, or I’m too old to sit on the floor or I’m too old for that kind of device.” Well, you’re not! You can still make yourself better and still work on these things.

P: And knee replacement and hip replacement is just something we expect.

L: Exactly.

P: Is there anything you could share that might help folks thinking about a Soul Seat? What would you suggest they do as they decide whether or not a Soul Seat would be right for them?

L: I think there’s a lot of great alternative seating options out there. The ball chair is great, the kneeling chair isn’t bad, so if you have access to something like that, something a little closer physically or in your price range that you want to start with and see how that makes a difference compared to ergonomic chair seating. When you decide you want a little more mobility and sitting options, that might be one way to get into it. All of the research is out there in my opinion as to how the way we sit has transformed our bodies. Changing how we sit is an option for getting away from some of the damage we’ve created as a species.

P: And you’re doing the scheduled payments. Are you feeling the value?

L: Totally. Absolutely. It’s been a really affordable and easy way for me to have comfort and productivity in my workplace. I love my Soul Seat! It’s my favorite piece of office furniture! So thanks!

P: Thank you!

*Interview edited for clarity.